Why are a few chess openings named King's Indian Defense, Queen's Indian Defense, Nimzo-Indian defense, and so on?

What is the significance of Indian in all these opening names? What's India's contribution to it?

6 Answers 6


In many cases, openings are named after a notable first master game (or games). The master or country does not necessarily must have contributed to it. Apparently in the case of Indian openings (1. d4 Nf6), they are named after Moheschunder Bannerjee. See the Wikipedia article on Indian defence.


In Indian Chess, the game that was played in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries in India (not to be confused with its ancestor Chaturanga), the rules allowed no castle, and double-step pawn moves were not allowed but:

The king can make a knight's move once in a game, known as Indian castling.

As a consequence, g3 followed by Kg2 for White or ...b6 followed by ...Kb7 (the black king stands on d8 at the beginning of the game in Indian chess) were very common moves in the opening, since it was the fastest way to bring the king towards the corner where it will usually find the most safety.

Of course, playing g3, b3 or ...b6, ...g6 could also be followed by a "normal" fianchetto with the camel (our bishop).

When Indian players started playing western chess (during colonization), they quite naturally used a lot of fianchettoes, since they are common in Indian Chess. As explained in user1583209's answer, that was the case for Moheschunder Bannerjee in his games against Cochrane around 1850:

The Indian Defences by P-KKt3 coupled with P-Q3, or P-QKt3 coupled with P-K3, were largely taught to European players by the example of Moheschunder and other Indians, to whom the fianchetto developments were a natural legacy from their own game. It is notable that many of Bannerjee's openings were based on single pawn moves, the "legacy" mentioned by Sergeant, as in the rules of Indian chess.

The Chess Player's Chronicle used the term "Indian defense" to refer to 1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 after him about 30 years later (1884). This is the first documented use of the appelation about that kind of defense with fianchetto - although "Indian Opening" appeared earlier to refer to 1.e4 e5 2.d3.

The term "Indian Defense" as we understand it today (After 1.d4 Nf6, thus excluding Pirc-Ufimsev and other schemes with e4 and not c4 for White) established itself after WWI, its use being popularized by Savielly Tartakower and Hans Kmoch.

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    why isn't this the accepted answer Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 6:45
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    Can the downvoter explain how I should improve this answer ?
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 19, 2021 at 13:20

Chess has evolved from the Indian game Shatranj. In early versions of Shatranj, the starting positions included the fianchetto, which is common in all of the modern chess openings you listed. This is why these openings have the word Indian in them.

See also Did Indian systems really have fianchettos?

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    Anonymous downvoter, do you wish to provide feedback to improve the answer?
    – user1108
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 10:54
  • I apologize Bad_Bishop. I think after my edit to Seth's answer, you both got the downvotes :(
    – user10872
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 16:55
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    @KrishnShweta: no problem. It's part of the design of the site that people can downvote as they see fit without leaving any comment. I just like to understand how I can improve the answer really.
    – user1108
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 21:51
  • Well, You can see the accepted answer in which answerer gave name of chess player and this is lacking in your answer. This was the reason of downvote I guess.
    – user10872
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 4:07
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    I always thought "Chantranj" was the Persian version of the game, and "Chaturanga" the Indian one.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 7:50

In "Indian" defenses, Black holds back his center pawns, especially his d-pawn, against a White 1. d4. This "Indian" style is in contrast to the European style of opposing 1. d4 with 1. ... d5, and 1. e4 with 1. ... e5.

Instead, Black opts to contest White's control of the center from the side. In the King's and Queen's Indian defenses, this means moving g6 or b6 respectively, and "fianchettoing" a bishop along the "long" diagonal. In the Nimzo-Indian defense (Nimzo stands for Aron Nimzowich), it means playing B b4 after e6. But the idea is to oppose White's d4 with c5 and not d5.

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    I am afraid this doesn't address the question...
    – Evargalo
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 19:46
  • @Evargalo: My post answers the question of "What is the significance of Indian in all these opening names?" (The fact that Black holds back his center pawns and develops from the side.) Maybe it doesn't address "What's India's contribution to it?" but that's the second part of the question.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 20:35

Indian Castling is derived from Shatranjan ( Not Shatranj ). ShadYantra is the actual game from which more advanced form of game called Shatranjan was derived by Kautilya (*Chanakya) some 2300 yrs ago. Chaturanga and Shatranj are variants.

In Shatranjan, Kings can move like Knights with the help of Royal and Semi Royal Aids. But in modern chess there are no Royal and Semi Royal pieces.

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    This answer is not relevant to the question.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Oct 19, 2021 at 12:42

Apart from the name Indian we have French defence, Yugoslav attack of Sicilian, the Russian attack of some defence which I do not remember right now but, the names came from the country where they originated but they are played in their respective way.

Chess has its origination in India and it was named Chaturanga.

In the medieval world, India was the only country who deployed Elephants during warfare so we have Rooks in the Game. The Indian Name in many Openings does not necessarily mean a Fianchetto of the Bishop as we have Nimzo-Indian Defence where Bishop comes to b4 but it's the introduction of a Bishop which is also an Indian animal Camel which was used in north India during Warfare.

So I believe that would be the only idea behind this naming convention. Even I have tried finding the reasoning but there is nothing specific. It is a sad history of chess that we do not have the name of the Person who invented the Game.

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    What do rooks have to do with elephants? I thought the bishops were originally elephants.
    – bof
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 9:17
  • You need to match their walking/running style . Since Elephants are giants heavy animals and are straight walking , Rooks are better suited for the match to Elephant for going straight on open files . Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 9:28
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    And yet the Wikipedia article agrees with book I've read on chess history, that originally the bishops were elephants and the rooks were chariots.
    – bof
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 9:34
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    I find the explanation unconvincing. A lot of openings use Bishop moves without being called Indian... " It is a sad history of chess that we do not have the name of the Person who invented the Game. " -> I would rather say: it is a great part of the history of Chess that no single individual invented the game !
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 8:35
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    @SethProjnabrata : I don't understand your last comment. What I believe in is irrelevent. The OP's question is about the origin of the appelation 'Indian Defense', and your answer doesn't offer documented information in that respect. At most you speculate on camels being used for warfare in Northern India and Indian Defense featuring moves by bishop. It strikes me as a very dubious analogy, and you don't back it with any source.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 12:02

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